Pests or partners?
Here is why we need to conserve invertebrates:
“If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.” – E.O Wilson
“If we and the rest of the back-boned animals were to disappear overnight, the rest of the world would get on pretty well. But if the invertebrates were to disappear, the world’s ecosystems would collapse.” – David Attenborough
Although insect life is critical to the well-being of the planet, many insect species are becoming endangered through human action. And recently, there has been an enormous worry about the fate of bees, where whole colonies seem to be dying without any real explanation as to why… and without the bee, much of our plant life would not be so effectively pollinated.
To celebrate the importance of insect life, Bridget Nicholls created the International Arts Festival of pests, known as the “Pestival”. This was first run in 2006 at the London Wetlands Centre, and is again being run in 2009, this time on the South Bank. The Pestival aims to raising awareness of the integral role insects play in the global ecosystem and in all animal societies and to generate positive PR for insects, so that they are seen as co-citizens of the planet rather than just as pests. “The Pestival aims to create positive PR for this 400-million-year-old, highly evolved taxon that has had thousands of years of bad press.”
Pestival will take place in London in May 2009. “The programme will include talks, demonstrations, workshops, art installations, films, music and performance, fusing art and science and reaching out to a broad, interested audience of homo sapiens adults and children.” www.pestival.org
Bugs in trouble
Did you know…
• The New Forest cicada is one of Britain's largest insects, black with orange stripes and lovely transparent wings longer than its body. It spends eight years in a larval stage before emerging in a burst of song -- but it has not been heard since 1996.
• Folklore has it that the spots of the seven-spot ladybird symbolise the seven joys and seven sorrows of the Virgin Mary. Sorrow than joy may be in store for lovers of Coccinella septempunctata as the aphids it eats are being gobbled up by the Asian harlequin ladybird, introduced to Europe as a biocontrol.
• The shrill carder bee was widespread in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but records suggest a decline to only one third of the previous distribution by the 1970s, with just seven sites reliably identified in the south and east of the British Isles in the 1980s.
• The southern damselfly is a glorious barcode in turquoise and black. But Coenagrion mercuriale has suffered a 30-per-cent decline in its UK distribution since 1960 due to a lack of appropriate heathland management.
• The oil beetle has one of the most extraordinary life cycles of any British insect, being parasitic on various species of ground-nesting solitary bee.But only three of the nine oil- beetle varieties once found in Britain are still resident.
What can you do to support insect life?
Put a note in your diary to go along to the next Pestival which is being held in May 2009 (watch the website for final dates and programme), and send Bridget your best wishes for its success at: email@example.com
Check out our blog entry for 7th March 2008 (“Bugs are our Friends”) and visit the Bugwatch website: www.buglife.org.uk
Think about the problem of pesticides by going to these Pesticide Action Network websites: www.pan-international.org, www.pan-uk.org and www.panna.org
Make your own chemical-free mosquito repellant from lemon grass, which is readily available. Here’s how: http://journeytoforever.org/edu_homer.html
Find out about beekeeping: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beekeeping
And if you want to become a beekeeper, the first point of contact is your national Beekeepers’ Association. In the UK this is: www.britishbee.org.uk
Animal rights activists don’t appear to be concerned about people eating insects. If you don’t want to be vegetarian, then insects will provide a more planet-friendly source of protein than farm-reared beef or pork. And if this becomes a fashion, then insects will be bred to create more insects... which could even improve the species! Check out the possibilities at http://eatbug.com